Give Her Wings to Fly

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“You won’t be able to do it. . . . you’re just a girl!”

This is something every woman hears at some time in her life--whether it’s as a young girl passing the ball while playing with young boys on the playground or as an adult in a professional setting when the deadlines are coming close or work gets too busy.
            Chances are, your little girl might be hearing the same things:

“Oh, what would you know about the Ninja warriors; you play with dolls.”
“No, you can’t have that fast bike; it’s too dangerous for girls.”
“Girls don’t shout or talk back.”

These stereotypes, which we all (no matter how unintentional) set up for young boys and girls, restrict and affect their choices throughout life. We need to provide the young girls around us role models—examples of what a woman can achieve if she sets her heart and mind to it. Here, I share short stories about three exemplary women that my niece can’t stop talking about and neither can I stop marveling at their courage.

Katherine Johnson
After watching Hidden Figures, I had to explain the concept of human computers to my niece. Yes, there are people who are geniuses at math and were hired by NASA to do complicated calculations, and Katherine Johnson is one of them. As smart as Johnson was, she was assigned to Flight Research Division, which was dominated by males. But in such an environment, she was able to stand out because of her work. In fact John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, famously quoted his faith in her when he said “Get the girl to check the numbers. . . . If she says the numbers are good, I’m ready to go.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper was a U.S. computer scientist known for her pioneering work in computer programming. Hopper, who was a mathematics professor at Vassar College, took a leave of absence and joined the Navy Reserves after being denied entrance into the Navy. She worked on the Harvard I Mark team and was part of the development team that designed UNIVAC I computer in 1944. Hopper’s work is believed to have led to the development of COBOL, an important high-level programming language. She received forty honorary degrees from universities all over the world and because of her naval rank and her many accomplishments, she is known as “Amazing Grace.”

Sylvia Alice Earle
Sylvia Alice Earle was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Earle is a marine biologist who has research marine algae and has been a proponent of fighting overfishing and pollution of the worlds’ oceans. She led the first all-female team of aquanauts as part of the Tektite II experiment and is a pioneer in the use of SCUBA. In the 1970s, Earle associated with National Geographic to produce movies and books on life in Earth’s oceans.

These women are the tip of the iceberg. I encourage you to find your own favorite woman and share it with the young girls and women in your life and to encourage them to do anything they set their mind to do.

Claudia Gravier Frigo contributed to this blog.